As we have been reminded this week, space travel is still a very hazardous Endeavour. In the history of NASA, 17 men and women, including the crew of Columbia have died in pursuit of the stars.
Nearly 33 years ago, three other men found themselves fighting for their lives while trying to return home to earth. One of those men was in East Texas Wednesday sharing his memories and the nation's grief.
Fred Haise came to Tyler as part of TJC's Enrichment Speaker Series. The event was originally scheduled to be in the Apache Rooms, but was moved to Wise Auditorium because of the increased interest after this weekend's Shuttle accident.
It started with a moment of silence for the crew of Columbia, then turned to a standing ovation for a survivor of NASA's Finest Hour. Fred Haise was the Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 13. His mission to the moon became a struggle for survival when an oxygen tank exploded.
"We had a potential catastrophic happening. But, we were in a stable environment and could extend our time using the alternate vehicle, the Lunar Module to buy time to work problems."
For four days, Haise and his crew mates, Jim Lovell and Jack Swigert survived by using the Lunar Module as a lifeboat. Haise says the crew of Columbia didn't have that luxury of time to solve problems during reentry. And as the first ever pilot of the Space Shuttle Enterprise, he's also aware of the limits of NASA's orbiter.
"The Enterprise had no engines, so it was a glider just as the current shuttle is."
Haise says the shuttle's tiles are very different from the heat shield used during Apollo. But, there were concerns the shield on his capsule had been damaged before reentry. He tried not to dwell on the dangers at the time.
"What's your choice? Are you going to not enter? That's another thing when people talk about the Columbia flight that they might have stayed on orbit. Even if they had known the damage, with the choices they had, they would have tried to enter"